Book Reviews

Olympic Poems
Brian Moses and Roger Stevens (Macmillan)
When these two accomplished poets produce a book together you expect something rather special. Olympic Poems does not disappoint. This collection mixes lots of humour with a pinch of pathos and a great deal of insight into the feelings of the primary age child.

Rather than being ‘about’ the Games, it takes competitive sports as the starting point and uses them to explore children’s experience of life at school and at home. Not everyone can be a winner, but there’s plenty in this collection to console the also-rans.

When reading Moses’ contributions, remember he is a percussive poet and most of his poems work best when read aloud to a beat.

This is a book that should be snapped up by schools and parents alike. Very good. TUC

Go To The Head
Ian Bland and Philip Waddell (Hands Up Books)

There are several good poems in this collection. The title poem is quite sad and offers not a glimpse of hope for the pupil being sent to the head. Landscape, too, is somewhat depressing as it catalogues the destruction of nature and offers no alternative. But others are much more uplifting and quite a few are very amusing.

I like the poems about ghosts and ghouls, especially the play on words in Clearly Guilty and again in The Raving-Mads. The riddles are fun. And it’s good to read poems written in a boy’s voice like Holiday Romance and He Said – both of which also acknowledge that this age group are already having healthy feelings of attraction to the opposite sex! TUC

The RSBP Anthology of Wildlife Poetry (A&C Black), Celia Warren, hardback

This is a gorgeous book featuring the work of poets ancient and modern, beautifully presented in a mixture of colour and black and white and illustrated by a selection of leading wildlife artists. In his foreword, Andrew Motion says: “…rarity is marvellous, ordinary things are marvellous too – or can be if we look at them closely enough… This eye-opening is not simply allowed by poetry, but endlessly encouraged by it…” Wise words which work equally well as a statement of intent for this book. Classic poems by greats such as Yeats, Wordsworth, Dickinson, Keats, Lear, Blake and de la Mare sit happily alongside potential classics by greats-in-the-making like Gerard Benson, John Rice, Judith Nicholls, Tony Mitton, John Agard, Roger Stevens and the anthologist herself, Celia Warren. It would make a wonderful gift with a long, long shelf life for any child (or, indeed, any adult). Truly a treasury! TUC

Goldilocks on CCTV (Frances Lincoln), John Agard, hardback

Brilliant! John Agard is so clever. This behind-the-scenes look at some well known and popular traditional tales is more than a book of poems; it’s a collection of beautifully bizarre ideas, telling cultural references and wickedly wise words that bring those so-familiar characters from the past firmly into the 21st Century. The illustrations by Satoshi Kitamura are perfect – not a word I use unguardedly. The poet’s rich reading voice with its Caribbean cadences can be heard throughout the book. It’s a masterpiece, will become a classic collection and will probably be Number One in my list of Top Ten poetry books this year. TUC

Pumpkin Grumpkin (Walker Books), John Agard and Grace Nichols, paperback

A collection of classic nonsense poems from around the world which illustrates that humour knows no territorial boundaries. It may vary from country to country, but it’s accessible to all of us no matter where it originates. The book quotes Sampurna Chatterji: “To me, nonsense is a game we play in which humour and insight, imagination and anarchy bounce in amazing (and amazingly rigorous) patterns on the trampoline of language!” Well, absolutely. That exactly describes the importance of this anthology compiled by poetic couple John Agard and Grace Nichols. A grumpkin? Possibly an Icelandic fruit – possibly the fruit of an Icelandic poet’s imagination! TUC

Evidence of Dragons (Macmillan), Pie Corbett, paperback

A fantastic collection of whimsical, funny, beautifully written poems – some with a message, some worthy of their place in the book just because they make you smile. Children will love having them read to them, but should be encouraged to read them aloud themselves (even the one entitled A Poem To Be Spoken Silently!) as this will help them learn a lot about the satisfaction of speaking cleverly crafted phrases. They’re not all easy poems; they are all proof of Corbett’s wonderful way with words. TUC

Best of Enemies, Best of Friends (Wayland), Brian Moses, paperback

This anthology tackles the serious subject of bullying – and does a very good job of capturing the fear of the victim, the bravado of the perpetrator and the shame of the silent witness. It also celebrates the joys and examines the trials of friendship. It includes poems by a selection of well known children’s poets, such as Roger Stevens, Clare Bevan and Jan Dean, and mixes in amusing and wise quotations from such celebrities as Abraham Lincoln, Aristotle and Professor Dumbledore! It also features the occasional poem by a child. I don’t like the cover – I think it’s a bit crude and frivolous and likely to appeal to younger readers – and the paper quality is poor, but I do like the contents, which will entertain and be valuable to the older primary school pupil. TUC

Hear Here (Hands Up Books) by Trevor Parsons

It’s rare to find a poetry book which doesn’t include at least one weak poem, but Trevor Parsons’ debut manages to give us 60 quality poems. I really like this solo collection. Parsons is very good at punch lines, which usually bring an extra smile but sometimes bear a sting in the tail. This is a book that children will want to read more than once. The only criticism concerns the cover – I don’t think the framed grey-blue retro look will be attractive to children, despite the fine illustrations by Lucy Creed which continue throughout the book. But it might appeal to parents and grandparents, I suppose, who may well be the ones forking out the cash. I hope so because it would be a shame to judge this book by its cover and deny children the chance to enjoy this great collection. TUC

Come Into This Poem (Frances Lincoln) and Plum (Barn Owl Books) by Tony Mitton

Come Into This Poem is Tony Mitton’s latest offering; Plum is a re-release of an old favourite. Both books feature Mitton’s hallmark – the occasional comment from the poet which I very much like and I think children do, too. Often poems justifiably mention things that children won’t have experienced – Mitton makes sure they know what they’re reading about, which adds to the enjoyment; particularly because they often answer a child’s favourite question: Where do you get your ideas from? Mitton is a talented, versatile and accomplished poet with the ability to engage children with his imaginative writing. In Plum, many of the poems read like adventure stories, they all say something interesting and they all illustrate a wonderful use of language. TUC

The Land of the Flibbertigibbets by John Foster (Salt)

This is a book full of fun and games. Children will love it and learn from it – probably without realising that there’s any teaching going on. The poems are witty or laugh-out-loud funny, there are rhyming riddles and puzzling puns, dextrous definitions, tall tales and short stories. An ode to onomatopoeia jostles for space with a page of punning epitaphs, the confessions of a bed bug (who bit The Queen’s bottom), a whole raft of football jokes, a lesson in American English and a celebration of the quirkiness of language. Lovely. TUC

Does Your Face Fit? compiled by Roger Stevens (A&C Black)

A moving and inspiring book for teenagers. A lot of young people feel their faces don’t fit and many of these poems will strike a chord with them as they explore the world of conformity and difference. Several of the verses will lighten the load with a chuckle and others will hopefully bring solace to those who currently struggle with loneliness. Some top notch established poets are joined in these pages by the young winners of the Inclusive Poetry Competition, run by special needs charity nasen, which receives a donation from sales of the book. Not only recommended reading for all teenagers, but also for those who teach them. TUC

The Language of Cat by Rachel Rooney (Frances Lincoln)

This is not a children’s poetry book – it’s a book of poetry that many children will enjoy, but which deserves a place on the grown-up shelf, too. Many of the poems work on several levels, most are thought provoking, all are clever and illustrate the poet’s love of language and wordplay. There are poems about love, about growing up, about ambition, about loss and about the nature of poetry. This is the first solo collection by Rachel Rooney. I am sure it will be the first of many. TUC

Leaves Are Like Traffic Lights by Andrew Fusek Peters (Salt)

There’s something really alive and exciting about this collection of poems. They race along at a hurtling pace; readers barely have time to catch our breath after being hurled into the air by an overturned sledge before we’re slaloming along on a skateboard. The poems celebrate the exhilaration of the outdoors, the behaviour of birds, the nature of trees, the weather, the seasons, the sun, the moon, the magic of being alive. It’s witty, weird and wonderful. TUC

A Bug In My Hair
Ian Bland and Philip Waddell (Hands Up Books)

Infants especially will enjoy these amusing poems. Several tell a tale or two
and teach a few lessons – about how clocks work and what can be found on the moon; but surely an octopus mummy would give eight not ten tickles? All of them bounce brightly along, using alliteration, rhyme and rhythm to entertain the reader. A lovely collection.
Beware! Low Flying Rabbits
Roger Stevens (Macmillan)

Surely the secret to Stevens’ success as a writer for children is the way in which he understands the workings of the younger mind! This wonderful collection tunes in to the important things in life at so many levels – plenty of the poems are funny and fun but others are serious and several are quite sad. The wit and warmth and wordplay in this collection will ensure that all the poems will be read over and over again by children and adults alike. TUC

My Cat Is In Love With The Goldfish
Poems chosen by Graham Denton (A&C Black)

There’s plenty to giggle about in this anthology of ‘loopy love poems’ and enough awful puns to cause quite a few groans, too. I will never like poems that play on the word ‘snot’ and I object to the use of # for Number (this is an English book, not American) but these slips and the few weaker poems are compensated for by the rest of the collection. If you want deep and meaningful, look elsewhere. But if you fancy a laugh – which is a good way to enjoy poetry – then this collection will do nicely. TUC

If You Could See Laughter
Mandy Coe (Salt)

Mandy Coe has the ability to transform ordinary situations
into magical adventures with her skilful use of rhythm and
rhyme. There’s something for everyone in this book – girls,
boys, younger readers and teenagers should all be
captivated by the way in which her words conjure up
vivid pictures that make the reader feel happy to be alive. TUC

Poems, Beans & Chips
Ian Moore (Moore Than Words)

On first reading the poems in this collection are fairly simple
and the ideas are accessible but not always that original –
however, on closer inspection there are some deeper meanings
hidden behind the humour and the rhyme. This is an
attractive and colourful book from a new poet who looks
likely to go on to greater things. TUC

How To Turn Your Teacher Purple!
Poems chosen by James Carter (A&C Black)

I didn’t know that steamy Mr Watt also invented the letter
copying press, nor that Edison couldn’t spell, nor that a day
consisted of 86,400 seconds. But I do now – thanks to this anthology of interesting and amusing poems on the theme of science which make the subject captivating and fun. TUC

Welcome to our new feature of poetry book reviews. The reviewer has appeared frequently in print and on radio and television. But prefers to remain anonymous. If you'd like a book reviewed send it to us. Email first to for the postal address.